Romney’s campaign countered the president’s education critique, saying college costs had skyrocketed under Obama’s watch and his economic policies had made it difficult for recent college graduates to find work.

Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Obama’s policies were “just more of the same from a president who hasn’t fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago.”

Obama’s line of criticism Tuesday, delivered in Ohio and then again at a community college in Reno, dovetailed with his campaign’s unrelenting effort to cast Romney as out of touch, playing off his wealth and his background in private equity.

Ryan, meanwhile, sought to reassure voters about his and Romney’s stance on Medicare and sustained the GOP’s efforts to cast Obama as a divisive figure.

Ryan tried to blunt criticism of his plan to overhaul Medicare, saying his plan would protect the program for seniors’ grandchildren.

“You’re going to hear a whole lot of distortions because that’s all he has to offer,” Ryan told a rally in the hull of Beaver Steel near Pittsburgh. He reminded voters in western Pennsylvania of a comment Obama made during the 2008 campaign, saying some voters in small towns “cling to guns or religion.”

“I’m a Catholic deer hunter. I’m happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion,” said Ryan, who walked on stage swinging a black-and-gold Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel, a nod to the popular hometown football team.

Democrats have tried to use Ryan’s budget proposal to undermine Romney’s pitch to blue-collar voters, and Obama’s appeal on higher education was no different.

Democrats contend that Ryan’s budget proposal, which failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, would cut $115 billion from the Education Department, costing 1 million college students their Pell Grants over the next decade. Democrats argue those moves would punish many middle class and low income families trying to gain an education.

Those estimates, however, assume the cuts in Ryan’s budget are applied evenly across all programs starting in 2014 — something Ryan aides say would not happen. His budget does not directly address Pell Grant funding, and his aides say the cuts would not take a one-size-fits-all approach.

Ryan, who prefers that students take loans instead of receiving grants, would keep the top Pell Grant award in the coming school year at $5,500 but in future years reduce the number of students eligible, not the award sums. In other words, fewer students would receive them but the neediest would not see their awards changed.

More than 9.7 million students are expected to get grants for the academic year that is about to begin.

Following a lunchtime stop at Sloopy’s, a diner at nearby Ohio State University, Obama made a personal pitch to college students at nearby Capital University, recalling that he and first lady Michelle Obama had to dig out of a “mountain of debt” after finishing law school.


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